This was a mediocre show for what I thought was a rather thought provoking book about existence. The adaptation manages to remove that quality and render it as another cliche story about a white, 20-something girl trying to “make it”.
It’s apparent that the episodes containing the original essence of the novel were written for the screen by the author herself. Danler emphasizes subtlety to portray relationships. In the first episode, Tess has a conversation with her dad on the payphone. We don’t know what he said but by her expressions and replies we can garner that it was not so great and that he was warning her not to ask for money. In comparison, episodes adapted by other writers completely miss the mark and has the characters explain everything. There’s hardly motivations left to interpretation when Simone or Tess explicitly spoon feed their feelings like we’re at our weekly therapy session.
I wish the directors would take the gamble to depict Tess as more apathetic and aimless. For me, that’s how she came across in the novel and a convincing factor why I found it difficult to root for her. Yet, that’s also a reason why I liked her. Not everyone has a ‘calling’ or purpose. It can be as simple as making it through the day and onto the next until you realize that you’re out of options and death is knocking on your door. On a philosophical standpoint, this message is much more poignant. The show, however, inserts upbeat montages to pop songs and it all has this image of Tess the Go-Getter. In fact, I interpret Sweetbitter as a cautionary tale or at least a perspective on what it means to settle. Simone is afraid to commit but she’s just as much accepting of comfort. Tess envisions her perfect life to mirror Simone’s to the moment that she’s repeating all of Simone’s mistakes as well.
T H E S H O W
While I criticize the editing and dialogue, the show has great cinematography. There are many use of depth of field to highlight locations and present interesting angles that make it standout from other prime time network shows. The first time that the restaurant is shown, the lighting is soft but cold. The crisply made tables peek out in between pillars which offer a focal backdrop. It’s attention to detail like this that demonstrates skill and style.
Yet, it gets bogged down by tv conventions that don’t necessarily add any meaning. I dislike how when Tess leaves, the scene continues when actually a large part of the novel, such as gossip, come by word of mouth. Tess learns about Jake’s bizarre relationship through watching them and sneaking around the restaurant. It adds mystery and gives hope that maybe everything isn’t what it seems. The show gets it right when Becky makes a scene and exposes Howard’s true nature. It’s disturbing but loses its effect when Simone and Howard reveal their blackmail material like two-bit villains.
What has been absolutely amazing are the perfectly cast of characters. Ella Purnell looks the part including the spot-on innocent bangs. Even her transformation into a New Yorker is as subtle as sweeping her bangs to a Audrey Hepburn style. I live for these details that weren’t in the novel but can only be added to a visual medium. And damn, if that isn’t that the most Simone looking a person can ever look.
Although, I don’t whole heartedly recommend this, it is a guilty pleasure.